Puerto Rico Governor Pedro R. Pierluisi recently issued back-to-back executive orders (EO) regarding COVID-19. It appears that the third EO was stuck in holiday traffic. This latest EO, like her sisters, amends November's EO-2021-075 to curtail COVID-19 infections. This EO, however, breaks new ground by requiring for the first time a booster shot for certain segments of the populace.
EO-2021-082: A Mandatory Boost for Health and Education Personnel
On December 22, 2021, Governor Pierliusi signed EO-2021-082, effective as of December 27, 2021.1 EO-2021-082 requires that any person older than age 18 who is fully vaccinated2 and meets the following criteria, must receive a booster shot:3 (1) people who work in health facilities,4 regardless of their job functions; and (2) people who work in schools, educational centers, and universities, regardless of whether the same are public or private. This latter portion includes contractors. Notably, students are not required to receive a booster under this EO. Covered personnel have until January 15, 2022, to receive their booster shot; failure to meet this deadline will impede such employees from working in person.
Pursuant to the directives of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person is able to receive the booster shot if: (a) six months have passed since their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, or (b) two months after their only dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. As in previous EOs, the above is subject to medical or religious exemptions. Exempted personnel must provide a weekly negative COVID-19 result or a positive COVID-19 result from the last three months with documentation showing recovery. It is the employee's responsibility to provide the tests. The EO makes clear that employees from the health sector will only have the weekly testing or positive result alternatives if they have an approved medical or religious exemption.
Similar to November's EO-2021-075, for medical exceptions to apply, the employee or contractor must demonstrate that their immune system is compromised, they are allergic to vaccines, or that they have some other medical reason that prevents them from getting vaccinated. This must be certified by an authorized physician in Puerto Rico. Additionally, the duration of the medical condition must also be certified. If temporary, once the condition ceases, the person must comply with the vaccination requirement.
Likewise, for a religious exception, the employee or contractor must present a certification detailing that that their sincerely held beliefs, practices, or religious observances prevent them from getting vaccinated. This includes the nature of their objection; an explanation of how complying with the vaccination mandate is a substantial burden or conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances; how long they have held said religious beliefs; the type of vaccines they object to; and whether they have received any other vaccines recently. Religious exceptions do not protect social, political, economic, or personal objections. Employers may request additional information regarding sincerely held beliefs, but the employer or the school will not be able to question the reasonableness of said religious belief.
This topic is evolving, and we anticipate the Department of Health will issue further guidelines in the upcoming days. Stay tuned for more information and updates on Puerto Rico's executive orders.
1 Coincidentally, on December 27, 2021, EO-2021-081 also becomes effective.
2 Under this EO, like in EO-2021-075, a person is "fully vaccinated" two weeks after their last required dose of their COVID-19 vaccine.
3 Under EO-2021-082, a "booster shot" is defined according to the definition given by the CDC. That is, "[a]dditional doses of a vaccine needed periodically to 'boost' the immune system." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Glossary, https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/terms/glossary.html (last visited Dec. 24, 2021, 9:30 AM).
4 The EO defines "health facilities" as places where health services are provided directly to the public. These include, but are not limited to, hospitals, clinical labs, health centers, healthcare provider offices, pharmacies, and others. Note that senior care centers and cannabis dispensaries are also included in this definition.
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